We arrived home last Saturday morning after a 9 hour flight from Abu Dhabi in the midst of Beijing’s celebration of the Year of the Tiger. Spring Festival – or Chinese New Year – is the by far the country’s biggest holiday, and we were greeted by our driver, Stephen, who – ignoring our sleep deprived status – suggested we visit one of the temple fairs to gain a true sense of the well-loved holiday.
In Hong Kong, “the” thing to do for Chinese New Year is to visit the city’s fabulous flower market at Victoria Park. In Beijing, a “must” is to attend one of the city’s many temple fairs. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, so when Stephen told us that it was the last day, how could we refuse? We went home, changed our clothes, and were off.
Before leaving on our eight- day holiday, my daughter, who loves Spring Festival every bit as much as Christmas, had insisted we put up all our decorations, despite our being gone on [Lunar] New Year’s Day. We followed the Chinese tradition of making dumplings and cleaning our house, sweeping away the bad luck and ensuring a clean home to welcome the New Year. I even indulged her with the purchase of small red lanterns that blinked – somewhat annoyingly – on and off. “And we must hang the fire crackers,” she insisted, opening our box of red paper replicas meant to scare away any residual evil spirits from the past year.
When we finished displaying the last decoration including a fish in our front window, which would help ensure a smooth crossing into the New Year – my daughter surveyed our home and looked at me,” Where are the door guardians?” On Chinese New Year, one often sees two rather fierce looking men on either side of peoples’ front doors, protecting the home. Knowing I would not have time to run to the store before our imminent departure, I tried to placate her, “I really think that the fire crackers will the trick.” Where a five year old learned such a perfect look of skepticism I don’t know.
Despite my daughter’s exhaustion upon our return home, she couldn’t wait to visit the Temple Fair, which was distinctly different from anything we had experienced in Hong Kong. Similar were lots of red and yellow decorations – red representing luck in Chinese culture and yellow – gold or wealth. Red was seen in the form of lanterns, banners and couplets with lucky slogans but also artificial chili peppers and other red fruits and vegetables, all considered especially lucky this time of year; yellow was represented by pineapples, corn, gourds. carrots, and the like.
As we walked the temple grounds, we enjoyed the numerous performances, especially a chicken dance performed by grandmothers and lion dance accompanied by acrobatics. We watched Peking opera and people lighting incense before heading for the food area, which featured grilled squid, kebobs, roasted corn, candied fruit and much, much more. There were also a number of arcade games, where one could win stuffed animals including – of course – not very fierce looking tigers. All of this was great, of course, but nothing topped the huge door guardins at the front gate, which prompted an enormous smile of satisfaction from at least one member of our party.
Above are some photos that hopefully capture a bit of the atmosphere and feel here in Beijing as we welcome the Lunar New Year.